Update: Eyewitness tells how he saw the Gillingham helicopter come down at “unusual 45-degree angle”.
PUBLISHED: 11:08 14 March 2014 | UPDATED: 11:08 14 March 2014
An eyewitness has revealed how he saw the helicopter which crashed, killing four people, coming down at “unusual 45 degree” angle.
Reporter David Lennard describes the scene of the crash
With thick fog leaving visibility down to only a few yards there was an eerie atmosphere at Gillingham last night.
Police had blocked the road close to the A143/A146 roundabout near McDonalds restaurant and traffic wanting to travel along the A146 quickly tailed back.
Many people who had wanted to travel in the Haddiscoe direction were forced to find an alternative route through the Norfolk countryside.
The helicopter came down in woodland close to Gillingham church and Gillingham Hall.
It is a very rural area which is mainly woodland and well away from the main village as it is separated from the busy Norwich to Lowestoft Road.
A number of villagers came up to the roundabout and there was a lot of sadness as details of the tragedy became clearer and news spread that four people had lost their lives.
“Gillingham is a lovely village where everyone knows one another.
“This has hit all of us very much,” said one woman who asked not to be named.
Her partner said they did not know about the crash until it appeared on websites and news broadcasts.
“I just thought we had to come up here but there is nothing we can do,” he said.
By 11pm more emergency service vehicles arrived on the scene including a large lorry and trailer.
Local residents who had come up to the roundabout left with some saying they still could not believe the tragedy that had unfolded in this small Norfolk village close to the River Waveney.
Police and ambulance crews were called to Gillingham at 7.30pm last night and discovered the crash site after searching the area.
At an 8.30am news conference today, police confirmed that the four occupants of the civilian aircraft who died in the crash were all male, although did not name them. They were all male.
It has been confirmed today that one of the people involved is Lord Ballyedmond, Edward Haughey, who owns Gillingham Hall.
Northern Ireland’s richest man, with a personal wealth estimated at more than £500m, he is the owner of Norbrook Laboratories, a veterinary pharmaceutical company. The firm was reportedly lending assistance to the investigation.
James Tuttle, 41, from nearby Geldeston, saw the helicopter come down.
He said: “We used to see him coming and going in his helicopter from our back garden all the time. At about 7pm we noticed the helicopter coming in very low and at an unusual 45-degree angle.
“We didn’t hear any bang or explosion - it just seemed to be flying in a strange way.
“The fog wasn’t that bad at the time - just patchy - it only got worse about an hour after the crash happened.”
Jim Blair, from Gillingham, said Lord Ballyedmond had been renovating the property for several years.
“We understood he was due to complete the work in April,” he said.
“He’s spent a lot of money on it and people in the area were curious about what he was doing.”
Eye-witness Michael Tabby described how he joined last night’s search after hearing “a loud bang” and an engine subsiding.
He said: “I was outside McDonalds with my friend when we heard a helicopter coming in quite low.
“It sounded like it was in difficulty and was trying to land opposite where there is a private helicopter landing pad.
“It sounded as though it then tried to climb and crossed the road in the direction of Norwich and then there was a loud bang followed by the sound of an engine winding down.
“My friend called the police and we tried searching the fields opposite with two other men, but we could not find anything.”
Further eyewitness accounts were soon circulating on social networks.
One Twitter user, Andrew89mufc, described hearing the helicopter coming down near his house.
He wrote: “I live in Worlingham on Park Drive. My garden backs on to the woodland leading to Gillingham. I heard a helicopter circling the house for about 15 mins at around 7:45. This may have been air ambulance or police searching tho.”
Lorraine Greenwood, who lives in Church Road, Gillingham, said: “From about eight o’clock there
have been loads of police cars, fire engines and ambulances going past here.
“I don’t think they were sure where it was in the fog because some were going round the roundabout and back again.
“I didn’t hear any crash, but I did see two other helicopters that looked like police helicopters circling.”
She added that the owner of Gillingham Hall had a helicopter.
She said: “He’s got a helipad there and he does fly in on a Thursday night.”
Taxi driver Mark Murray, 22, from Beccles, said: “There is a large stately home nearby and you often see helicopters coming and going from there. When they have a game shoot the guests often all arrive in separate helicopters.
“We don’t know if that is linked, but that’s the only helicopter activity we see in this area.”
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